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Thanks for stopping by for Day 3 of Upworthy's 31 Days of Happiness Countdown! If this is your first visit, here's the gist: Each day between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31, we're sharing stories we hope will bring joy, smiles, and laughter into our lives and yours. It's been a challenging year for a lot of us, so why not end it on a high note with a bit of happiness? Check back tomorrow (or click the links at the bottom) for another installment!

The holiday season is all about adding a little bit of cheer to our otherwise routine lives — something that's easy to do when you're surrounded by sparkling lights and a blanket of snow.


Once we all return to our regular, holiday-free slog, however, finding joy in the unexpected becomes more of a challenge.

It's a challenge that photographer Jenna Martin has decided to tackle head on, through her awesome portrait series "Ugly Spots, Pretty Shots."

[rebelmouse-image 19533447 dam="1" original_size="768x512" caption="All photos by Jenna Martin, used with permission." expand=1]All photos by Jenna Martin, used with permission.

The photo series showcases just what kind of magic can happen when you look at an otherwise unremarkable place with a more creative attitude.

Martin and her model friend Rachelle Kathleen picked out "ugly" places — like hardware stores and tire shops — and found ways to create amazing photos from these otherwise uninteresting backdrops.

Next thing you know, this lighting section:

...becomes this crystal wonderland!

Martin has a few rules the pair follow when they do these unconventional shoots. "We have to work with what is there," she explains on her blog. "No props or extra lighting." So what you see is what was there — no behind-the-scenes tricks to make the photos look fancier.

They also don't change the scene in any major way (though they do stay out of the way of customers and employees) and they always try to do the whole shoot within an hour.

Though Martin is a professional photographer, she doesn't do these shoots with clients. It's just a fun opportunity for two creative friends to force themselves to see beauty where, normally, people see the exact opposite.

You can click through to the original posts (there are two so far) to see more of Martin's shots, plus snaps she took with her phone to demonstrate exactly what each backdrop looked like to the naked eye.

It's proof that, with a little creativity and some resolve, we can find joy anywhere — and not just at the holidays!

More days of happiness here:DAY 1 / DAY 2 / [DAY 3] / DAY 4 / DAY 5/ DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8 / DAY 9 / DAY 10 / DAY 11 / DAY 12 / DAY 13 / DAY 14 / DAY 15 / DAY 16 / DAY 17/ DAY 18 / DAY 19 / DAY 20 / DAY 21 / DAY 22 / DAY 23 / DAY 24 / DAY 25 / DAY 26 / DAY 27 / DAY 28 / DAY 29 / DAY 30 / DAY 31

Lia Darjes, a Berlin-based photographer, admits she went into her latest photo project with one wrong impression.

Can you truly be at peace identifying as both Muslim and LGBTQ? She wasn't so sure.

"At the point when I started working on this project, I myself did not think that there are queer Muslims who manage to reconcile those two parts of their identities," she says.


Darjes learned, however, she was wrong.

Her series, "Being Queer. Feeling Muslim," which she shot between 2013 and 2015, captures faces and stories of LGBTQ Muslims living in Europe and North America.

As evidenced by the seven photos below, queer Muslims — an often underrepresented and misunderstood group — deserve for their diverse and eye-opening stories to be heard by a world that often fails to listen.

1. Ludovic, from Paris, said being gay and Muslim opened his eyes to the injustice faced by many oppressed groups.

All photos by Lia Darjes.

"In 2012, after I did not find one single imam in France who was willing to bury a transsexual Muslim, I founded a mosque that is inclusive and open to all in Paris. The reactions were quite vehement. Being Muslim, Arabic and gay and thus a member of several minority groups opened my eyes: Minorities are being discriminated against particularly in times of economic crisis. We have to know more about Islam, and we have to understand who we actually are in order to fight homophobia." — Ludovic

2. Samira, from Toronto, doesn't understand why others can't see that Muslims are just as diverse as Christians.

“I am from a country where it is punishable by death to be gay. 1979, when the Islamic Revolution began, my family immigrated to Canada, where I grew up pretty secular; maybe that was why I never had that moment of a coming out with my parents, I think they always knew that I am a lesbian. When 9/11 happened, all of a sudden I became Muslim — not because I was behaving differently but because people saw me differently. Just one look at my name and people act differently. Why don’t they understand that there are so many different ways of Islam in different countries, different traditions, different shapes? Why can they accept it for Christianity and Judaism but not for Islam?” — Samira

3. Joey, from Los Angeles, used to be an atheist, but one powerful novel opened his eyes to Islam.

“I was a pretty strong atheist and then I came across a copy of Michael Muhammad Knight’s novel, ‘The Taqwacores,’ about a fictional Muslim punk movement that kind of became true after being published. I purchased it, read it in just a couple of days and it opened my eyes a lot more to the religion. … In a way, I was very orthodox in my thoughts when putting the LGBT community and Islam together. Because on first sight, it looks dark when you look in the Quran and the Hadiths, it clearly can’t be OK. But then you can read other sources, other verses of the Quran, other Hadiths, and it gets clear that it is all a question of how you decide to interpret it.” — Joey

4. Amin, from Los Angeles, sometimes feels as though he's fighting two battles in the LGBTQ and Muslim communities.

“I find myself in the middle of two fronts – sometimes fighting within the Muslim community for more tolerance of LGBT people, and at other times fighting queer people and non-Muslims against the rampant Islamophobia in this country. I feel like I’m obligated to educate people on both sides. At the same time, I don’t feel the need to be validated by anyone. I don’t feel any great inner turmoil because of the various components of my identity. Like, I don’t necessarily feel excited by the prospect of a mosque for gay people. If there was a big mosque and people went and prayed together, I would still feel uncomfortable – gay or not. But I feel like people should have the right to do that. Is that weird? It sounds like I am in denial, doesn’t it?” — Amin

5. El-Farouk, and his husband, Troy, from Toronto, believe the Quran advocates for the acceptance of LGBTQ people.

"Where I am at today is not necessarily where I started. And I could tell you where I am now and it would sound rather a happy place. But the journey to that place has not been an easy one. I started with the notion that it was sinful [to be gay] and that those who practiced it were problematic at best. But that didn’t quite sort of seem right in the larger construct of the Quran and the Prophet that I believed to be true and actually had been taught. I don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin because sexuality in Islam is not a sin. Sexuality is something that God has given. And in verse 49.13. Allah says, ‘I created you to different nations and tribes and you may know and learn from each other.’ I just see queer folk as one of those nations or tribes." — El-Farouk

6. Sara, from New York, has always felt empowered by — not limited by — her Muslim faith.

“Islam has never been a part of my life that I felt limited by, it has always been a source of strength. I feel that I come out as Muslim rather than coming out as queer. Many people have a very strong preconception of what a Muslim woman looks like and how she behaves. And though, when I actually share this with people as something that is really important to me, they are often very confused.” — Sara

7. Jason, from Los Angeles, says converting to Islam was initially about connecting to God.

“When I converted to Islam a couple of years ago, [being gay] wasn’t an issue for me. I had just realized that I wanted to be a Muslim, and being a Muslim at that moment, as a very early young Muslim, it was all about my connection with God, and getting close to God. A month later, I realized that I needed to look to what the Quran and everybody says about being gay. … And everything was extremely negative, very, very negative. And it was very disturbing to me.” — Jason

Everywhere she went, Darjes found "people who wanted to be visible, who wanted to share their stories and ideas," she says.

Homophobia and transphobia are often used as tools to discriminate against queer Muslims. But by giving others a platform through her photo series, Darjes — who is straight, cisgender (non-transgender), and does not practice Islam — says she hopes her subjects help shift broader attitudes when it comes to accepting LGBTQ people of minority faiths.

"Breaking stereotypes," she notes, "has always been something that interests me."

To see more photos in "Being Queer. Feeling Muslim," visit Darjes' website.

Update: Some of the quotes in this article were updated on April14, 2017.

Photographer Mehmet Genç travels the world snapping pictures of all the interesting people he meets. But it's not always an easy job.

Genç and one of his subjects. All photos by Mehmet Genç used with permission.

"If you go to remote place, usually people there are not relaxed when taking photo of them," he said in an email. He asks his subjects to smile, to loosen up, but often they won't, at least not right away. It takes time to earn their trust and build comfort with them, he says.


So on a trip to San Cristóbal, Mexico, in 2015, Genç tried something a little different while taking pictures of a local woman.

He told her, "You are so beautiful." And he meant it. Her face lit up, he said, and when he saw the photo of that moment, he knew he was onto something incredible.

Right then and there, the project "You Are So Beautiful" was born, with Genç traveling the world trying to capture the joy people experience in the exact moment they receive a genuine compliment.

Those four simple words transcend language, culture, and age. His work mostly features women, but Genç said men like being told they are beautiful too. Who wouldn't?

These before-and-after photos are truly incredible. Here are some of Genç's absolute favorites:

1. A woman from Xela in Guatemala.

2. A 70-year-old Ecuadorian woman.

3. Margarita, 74, also from Ecuador.

4. A woman from the mountains of Colombia.

5. A young girl in a small Colombian village.

6. A woman from a Guatemalan village called Santa Maria.

7. Iwan-eva, a native of the Amazon region in Brazil.

8. A 17-year-old girl from Brazil's Amazon region.

9. An 88-year-old from the town of Atalaia do Norte in Brazil.

10. And Zarek, a 77-year-old native Arhuaco woman from Colombia.

Genç says the response to his project has been overwhelmingly positive, with many people wanting to recreate it themselves.

And while the photos are great, he insists the project is really about making people happy — and how easy it can be to do that.

"You can just say two words ('You're beautiful') and ... people are happy!" he said. "It's not important what age and where they are."

That's a message that can only be described as, well, beautiful.

It's 2016. Isn't it time you let mushrooms into your heart?

Fungi (think mushrooms, lichens, and slime molds) are actually really fun, guys.

Dad jokes aside, mushrooms and other fungi are diverse, colorful, textured, and just plain strange. Their beauty is remarkable and unexpected, challenging every notion about what fungi should be. I wanted to know more about these organisms, so I went straight to the source: fungi fanatic Stephen Axford.


All photos by Stephen Axford, used with permission.

Axford takes beautiful photographs of weird and wonderful fungi near his home in rural New South Wales, Australia, and on expeditions around the world.

He's traveled to China, Thailand, and Russia to shoot nature at its best. But why fungi?

"I was into going out as far away into the bush as I could, away from people. And I came across mushrooms, and they seemed quite photogenic," Axford said. "I didn't know much about fungi at the time, but ... people explained things and I got to know quite a few mycologists, and one thing led to another."

Now, Axford runs his own photo website and a popular Facebook page dedicated to his fungi photography. His work is also slated to appear in BBC's "Planet Earth II." And as you can imagine, his passion for these organisms is contagious.

Think you can get through this collection of Stephen Axford's photos without falling in love with all things fungi? Good luck.

I mean, come on, the colors of this Anthracophyllum archeri are almost intoxicating.

And the smooth lines of this Bisporella citrina are the stuff modern artists dream about.

Fungi shapes can vary wildly too. This crinipellis looks part jellyfish.

And did we take a trip under the sea? Nope, that's not coral. It's Clavaria zollingeri.

The Cyathus striatus or "bird's nest" fungi is less "birds nest" and more "straight-up magic."

And the Cookeina tricholoma look like ... well. OK, let's just move on.

Mycena interrupta might appear to be something out of "Avatar," but they're here. On this planet. RIGHT NOW. No hair-horse bond required.

Prefer something a little more, "Seuss-ian" in nature? Say no more, fam.

Panus lecomtei.

Or perhaps you require a mushroom where you can keep earrings, paper clips, secrets, and spare batteries. Cue the Plectania campylospora.

And Leratiomyces may look like a fancy sugar cookie you buy at the bakery, but do not eat it. Trust me on this one.

I'm sorry, is this not a magical house where fairies live? Oh, just a Leptonia. My mistake.

Now you may be thinking, "Glittery, glamorous fungi? That don't impress me much." Well, these creepy looking lichens are just for you, Shania Twain.

Or better yet, how about this fungi that is not here for your body-shaming.

And  this slime mold screams personality. Not really though, that would be terrifying.

And finally this Mycena chlorophos glows in the dark. It GLOWS IN THE DARK! Are you not entertained?

Chlorophos before chlorabros.

The beauty, wonder, and ecological diversity in fungi are truly staggering.

Axford is essentially a citizen scientist, traveling and lending his talent to experts and researchers, many of whom haven't had the opportunity to document these particular types of mushrooms and fungi in their natural state. It's his own way of contributing to the greater good and advancing conservation in his corner of the world.

"There aren't enough scientists to go around," he said. "So people like myself can actually do something useful, something important, in tracing how things work."

Whether it's fungi photos or something altogether different, taking part in the care and conservation of our natural lands is something all of us can do. And who knows what gems and surprises you'll discover along the way.